VERGENNES — The Vergennes Union High School girls’ basketball team took a step forward on Monday, when the host Commodores twice rallied to pin a 46-42 setback on a Harwood team that had earlier handed them a 13-point loss.
VUHS trailed by 11 in the first half and eight in the third quarter before rallying to lead after three, 36-34. Then, with their leading scorer on the bench with five fouls, the Commodores erased a 42-38 deficit with an 8-0 run over the final 2:50.
They also held the 4-10 Highlanders scoreless for the final 4:01, forced 15 second-half turnovers, and held Harwood to 15 second-half points.
It was the first victory for the 3-9 Commodores over a team with more than one win, reversed a 47-34 decision in December, and produced wide smiles as the Highlanders launched an off-target three-pointer at the buzzer.
“It was basically fantastic,” said senior point guard Tabby Danyow, whose two free throws with 1:05 to go snapped a 42-42 tie. “We’ve had a couple good games leading up to this, but we hadn’t won either one of them, so to finally get a win under our belts was so nice.”
Coach Billy Waller saw progress because recent games vs. Milton and Montpelier were similarly close in the fourth quarter, but the Commodores’ opponents made the plays. On Monday, VUHS stepped up.
“Hopefully it means that they realize that they can win some close games. We fought hard against Milton and Montpelier, but we struggled to score in the last three or four minutes,” Waller said.
Early on, Monday’s game looked like it might be a re-run of the December loss vs. Harwood, when Highlander freshman Jennifer James led her team to the 13-point win.
In Monday’s first quarter, James went five-for-five from the floor, including a three-pointer, to spark Harwood to an 18-12 lead. Harwood took a 9-0 lead in the first 2:14, and led by 14-5 with three minutes to go.
Then senior center Hannah Curler (VUHS highs of 11 points and 11 rebounds) scored twice in the post to help spark a 7-4 Commodore run to close the quarter, and the lead was down to six after one period.
The Commodores then committed seven of their 23 turnovers in the second, four in the first two minutes. Meanwhile, James kept hitting, scoring five points as Harwood stretched the lead to a game-high 11 twice, at 23-12 and 25-14.
Danyow (nine points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals) and senior forward Chelsea Grant (10 points, nine boards and three steals) then rallied VUHS to within 27-22 at the half. The duo combined for nine of the Commodores’ 10 points in the quarter, with Danyow setting up Grant twice inside.
During intermission, the Commodores talked about defense.
“Billy was not happy with our defense at halftime,’” Danyow said. “We said, all right, Billy, we’re going to buckle down and sprint and get to that ball and make sure we’re on top of our girls.”
The Commodores also had to account for James, who had scored 16 points by the half. Waller asked Grant to deny her the ball after the break, and James scored just four more points to finish with 20.
But a three-pointer by Harwood’s Miranda Milne put VUHS in a quick eight-point hole, and VUHS did not immediately click on offense. Then senior Amber Dow (five points, four steals) converted a nice pass from Curler in the lane and banked home a three-pointer at 5:30 to offset a post move by Harwood center Naomi Kolida.
That hoop cut the lead back to five, 32-27, and triggered a 12-2 quarter-closing run. Grant contributed a tip-in, junior forward Caitlin Chaput converted a drive-and-dish from senior guard Ali Straley, and Curler finished the spurt with two hoops in the lane and a free throw. A late James jumper helped Harwood stay within two after three periods, 36-34.
When sophomore VUHS guard Ruby Dombek opened the fourth quarter with a drive at 7:00, it looked like the surge would keep going.
Instead, Harwood went on an 8-0 run over the next three minutes to take a 42-38 lead. Four Highlanders scored, and James capped it with a jumper midway through the period. Then, at 3:20, Curler fouled out, sending Kolida to the line.
But she missed. And VUHS took charge. Chaput, in for Curler, broke a 4:10 scoreless streak by swishing a foul-line jumper; Waller later agreed that hoop might have been the biggest of the game.
VUHS missed on its next possession, but forced two straight turnovers. The second was a Danyow steal. She missed the coast-to-coast layup, but Chaput followed and laid in the tying basket at 1:30.
Danyow then rebounded a Harwood miss, was fouled going on another coast-to-coast run, and made the go-ahead free throws at 1:05.
“I was like, don’t focus on the fact that this is the tie-breaking point or anything, just do it like you’re in practice at the end and just focus on foul-shooting and making it,” she said.
Down the stretch, Chaput (eight points and four boards) and Grant rebounded Harwood misses, and a Grant putback at 0:19 clinched the win.
Danyow noted the many baskets VUHS got through teamwork, particularly by driving and dishing, and the strong team defense.
“We stuck together as a team,” Danyow said. “It was just a team effort. It’s a cliché, but it really was.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]